The Yukon Chamber of Commerce is bringing an Alberta fracking expert to speak in Whitehorse and Watson Lake.
Kevin Heffernan is the president of the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources.
He is coming to explain the complicated and controversial process of extracting natural gas from tight shale rock deep underground.
“My intention is to explain the actual processes that are used, why they are used, and take questions from the audience,” said Heffernan.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping a pressurized slurry of water, sand and chemicals into wells in order to break apart rocks and release gas trapped inside.
But most people do not have a good understanding of the process, he said.
“A big part of what our organization does is to take really complicated technologies and translate them for the layman. Understanding this stuff, it’s hard work, and that’s one of the communications challenges for any discipline - it doesn’t matter if its dentistry or hydraulic fracturing. It’s easy to get the headline understanding of a science or a technical discipline, but there’s a lot more to it than what you read in the headlines.”
And the headlines, when it comes to fracking, are not good, said Heffernan.
“If you read the headlines today, it’s that hydraulic fracturing is evil and it’ll be the end of the planet. And in fact, that’s not the case. It has been done well over a million times in the U.S. and probably a couple of hundred thousand times in western Canada. If it was as dangerous as some would have you believe, there’d be no place in western Canada where you could drink the water.”
The Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources has its roots in the 1990s as a group of geologists and engineers looking for better technologies to get at hard-to-reach oil and gas deposits, said Heffernan.
The association was formalized in 2002. About half of its work now is communicating complex technologies to the general public, he said.
Fracking has never been used in the Yukon, and the government has committed to a review of the process before the technology is allowed to be used here.
Many Yukon groups and First Nations have come out in opposition to hydraulic fracturing.
Most recently, the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council has called for a fracking ban in Yukon and Alaska until it is proven to the satisfaction of First Nations to be safe.
In southwest Yukon, The Liard First Nation has announced a full ban on all oil and gas development.
And in the north, the other region affected by oil and gas development, the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation has said that it will oppose fracking until it can be proven safe.
Heffernan acknowledges that hydraulic fracturing, like any industrial process, involves risk.
But those major areas have been clearly identified, and can be minimized under proper regulation, he said.
One risk area is the design and construction of wells, he said.
If wells are not made correctly, it can result in methane seeping through the concrete and contaminating groundwater.
It happens, but it’s uncommon, said Heffernan.
And that risk is exactly the same for a conventional well or a fracked well, he said.
The other risk has to do with the handling and transport of the fluid pumped back out of the well after fracking.
That risk, too, can be minimized with proper attention and regulation, he said.
Getting First Nations and communities on board with hydraulic fracturing takes time, consultation and understanding on both sides, said Heffernan.
“Operators that I’ve seen work very hard with First Nations to help them understand the processes and the technologies and the risk areas, and how those risk areas are addressed. And it’s not all about risk, it’s about economic opportunity. Where you have some First Nations concerned or worried about development, there are many other examples of First Nations who have embraced the technology and have embraced the oil and gas industry and the work that it does because it does deliver economic opportunity for communities.”
Heffernan will speak at a Monday luncheon in Whitehorse. Tickets are $30 and seats are limited.
He will also speak Tuesday in Watson Lake.
Contact the Yukon Chamber of Commerce for details.
Contact Jacqueline Ronson at